Page last updated at 10:06 GMT, Tuesday, 1 July 2008 11:06 UK

Thieves steal naval war plaques

Naval war memorial, Plymouth Hoe
The war memorial is being restored on behalf of the War Graves Commission

Thieves who desecrated a war memorial by stealing four plaques bearing the names of the war dead have been described as the "lowest of the low".

One bronze plaque was stolen from the naval war memorial on Plymouth Hoe, Devon, hours after a Veterans' Day event on Sunday.

Three more were stolen overnight and a fifth has been damaged.

Veterans and families of serving personnel have angrily condemned the callous thieves.

The plaques, which are valued at about 2,000 each, are currently being restored.

For someone to do this and try to sell it for scrap is just beyond words
Andy Mitchell, sculptor

Sculptor Andy Mitchell, who has been employed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) to carry out the restoration, discovered the second theft at about 0830 BST.

He said he was in a complete state of shock.

"It's just so sad and I just don't know what else to say," he told BBC News.

"My first priority is to contact the War Graves Commission to tell them what's happened."

Mr Mitchell said it was a very deliberate act, as the plaques were not easy to remove.

Missing memorial plaques
The War Graves Commission is considering more security

"The plaques have a list of marines who died serving their country and for someone to do this and try to sell it for scrap is just beyond words," he said.

"If the families get hold of whoever's responsible, I don't know what would happen."

Former Royal Marine Daniel "Dusty" Millar, 80, from Plympton, said it was impossible to comprehend the mindset of the thieves.

"It's outrageous that anyone could carry out such a wicked act which will cause such distress to the friends and families of our war heroes," he said.

James Cockburn, the stepfather of 21-year-old Plymouth Royal Marine Ben McBean, who lost an arm and a leg when a mine exploded during a patrol in Afghanistan said the thefts were "hideous and disgraceful".

Peter Francis, a spokesman for the CWGC, said he was shocked and disgusted.

Security measures

"To lose the first was bad enough, but what has happened overnight truly beggars belief," he said.

"We will definitely be taking steps to secure the remaining panels and will be writing to local authorities, asking them for help with this situation."

John Pentreath, the manager of the Devon Royal British Legion, said it was a "despicable act" and described the thieves as the "lowest of the low".

Police have appealed to anyone with information to contact them.

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